It is all very well to talk about accepting difference in general, but how do we cope when someone else's difference challenges our own, frequently comfortable view of the world? Can we, in fact have a situation where two people with the same information interpret it differently, yet each is correct?
A well-known example of this is the picture of an old/young woman, familiar to anyone who has studied basic psychology or Human Resources.
Depending on how your brain interprets the image, you will see an old woman, a young woman, or both. Those who see the young woman will swear that this is what the picture shows. Likewise with the old woman.
People who can see both will be appalled at the intellectual ineptitude of those who only visualise one image, even when the puzzle is explained to them. Yet each person is correct, and there are three distinct ways of interpreting the same image. It's all about the differences in our perception.
To take an example from "real life", the children of a father whose job takes him away from home a lot may complain bitterly about an absent parent, while the father sees himself as fulfilling his role of supporting a family. Both views may be true, but each will be coloured by the perception of the individuals concerned. Is the glass half-full or half- empty?
In seminars, we have talked about our perceptions coming from our family of origin, our life experiences, the place we currently occupy in history (for example, most young people now have some sort of post-secondary education which impacts their world view) and our particular culture.
God is a God of diversity (just look at the world he created). We are not all the same, and we come from many different cultures and backgrounds. We need to realise that our uniqueness is valuable. Sometimes we just interpret things differently, and that can be OK. It may be healthier to learn to appreciate our differences than to try to force everyone into the same mould.
Just because someone disagrees with us, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are wrong - they may be filtering their view through their own perception, just as we are. That doesn't make them - or us - right either, but before we dismiss them as ignorant or unfeeling, it may be useful to find out more about where they are coming from.
All of us have a framework for viewing the world which comes from our family and culture. It impacts on the way we see ourselves. Bereavement, rejection, poor health - all affect the way we perceive and interact with others. We may only become aware of this when stress causes us to respond to someone with uncharacteristic anger.
Many of us will be familiar with the diagram of the iceberg, which shows a small tip above the water line, and the greater portion, that remains unseen below the surface. It is this much larger portion of the iceberg which is used to portray thoughts, feelings and actions which, while hidden even from ourselves, nonetheless influence the way we relate to the world.
By becoming aware of what lies beneath the surface of our own lives, we raise our self-awareness and understand the frameworks from which we view the world. This can prevent us from judging others. Raising our self awareness enables us to make greater allowances for others, and reach out to them.
Effective communication nourishes, encourages and helps our relationships to grow. We communicate through words, body language and behaviour. Of these, we respond most to the body language of the person talking to us — 55% as opposed to 38% for tone of voice and only 7% for the words used. Through tone and body language we convey mood, emotions and feelings, often unintentionally. It is impossible for us not to communicate.
Sometimes we need to learn to live with difference.
Even when we are convinced we are right, it usually doesn’t improve our personal relationships to thrust our point of view down someone’s throat. Get the other person to tell you a little about why they think the way they do. Hearing what they have to say doesn’t mean that you agree, or have to change your own view (although you may choose to). What it does do, is validate the worth of the person you are speaking to. It may also make them more amenable to hearing what you have to say. Seek to understand rather than “improve” the other person.
There is a difference between hearing and listening. When we hear someone's words we are often just waiting for our turn to speak, but listening involves tuning in to the other person. We use reflection and empathy, without rescuing - "That must be difficult for you". We need to validate the other person's right to have an opinion, even though we don't necessarily agree with it. What we are saying when we listen is that the other person is important to us and therefore we will respect their point of view. In showing respect for what they say we are demonstrating that we value them as a person.
- Listen with love. Your attitude will colour what you hear.
- Listen with eyes as well as ears.
- Listening is hard work.
- Listen with understanding.
- Listen with all you have, without lecturing or
- Listening is a reflection of Christ's love for us: Colossians 3: 12-14
Sometimes you have to "give a little to get a little".
It may at times be better to get part of what you want than none at all. You want to dine out twice a week, your significant other thinks once a month is more than satisfactory. Rather than both digging in, try once a fortnight and see how it goes.
Some things, of course, are much harder to compromise on, particularly matters of faith and principle, but where people are open to discussion, alternatives can often be tried, or you may agree to disagree until the Lord reveals a resolution. This can be preferable to vowing never to speak to the other person again until they change. Avoid the "my way or the highway" approach.
Let's recognise when someone is doing their best.
Give yourselves and one another credit for making an effort, even if you feel it falls far below your expectations. This is what God does with us, and he has far more to forgive. "Confess your faults toward one-another" and at the same time strengthen each other in the efforts we are making, acknowledging even seemingly small results. Be encouraging, not condemning.
Let's focus on the positive
See the good in another person rather than looking for things you can criticise. This doesn't mean that we completely ignore unreasonable behaviour or fail to set appropriate boundaries - and some of us need an awful lot of understanding- but we will find it easier to be supportive and loving if we can genuinely notice first, the positive qualities that exist in people.
Let's keep a sense of humour
This helps us to keep things in perspective and prevents us from taking ourselves too seriously.
Taken from NSW Christadelphian Support Services newsletter No.33. May 2010